The design of two proposed nuclear power plants in Georgia should prevent the kind of difficulties produced in a Japanese plant that was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, a Georgia Power Co. executive told Sandy Springs business owners.

W. Craig Barrs, Georgia Power’s executive vice president for external affairs, told members of the Sandy Spring/Perimeter Chamber at the chamber’s 2011 Business Expo that the problems with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were created when a tsunami knocked out power to the pumps needed to move water to cool the reactor core.

“Water is the issue in Japan,” Barrs told chamber members gathered for breakfast at the Marriott Perimeter hotel. “It is the issue for safety here. The new design [of the Georgia plants] will have water up here [above the reactor] that will be gravity fed down, so you don’t have to have three redundant sources of electricity to get it down [to cool the reactor core].

“The earthquake was not the problem in Japan. Those units did exactly what they were supposed to do. It was the tsunami.”

The Japanese power plant suffered major damage in the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan March 11. It now is closed. “The long-term solution for this,” Barrs said, “is they’ll entomb it in concrete and glass. That’ll take a year.”

Georgia Power wants to build two new nuclear power plants at Plant Vogtle in Burke County. Barrs said the Japanese events should not stop the project because the reactor designs are different.

The reactors proposed for Vogtle employ new designs that have not yet been built in the U.S., he said.  No new nuclear power plants have been built over the past 20 years in the U.S. because of changing design requirements from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the past. One reason Georgia Power decided to apply to build the new reactors was that the federal government agreed to approve a consistent design.

“Designs were being changed on a weekly basis,” he said. “The industry said, ‘We can’t do that.’”

The federal government also agreed to combine the licensing of construction and operation of the facilities, he said.

Barrs said Georgia Power hopes to win approval to start construction on the new reactors later this year. Site preparation already is under way, he said. The company hopes to add the new Vogtle units in 2017.

Barrs said there are 442 operating nuclear power plants in 30 countries. There are 104 units in the United States, he said. There now are four nuclear plants in Georgia.

Joe Earle

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